DrunkWooky back with another completely unsolicited review. That’s right, readers didn’t ask for it, Tony didn’t ask for, nobody asked for it.
So let’s get on to what will surely be my very controversial opinions.
First of all: Rogue One is the best Star Wars ever produced. That’s right. The BEST Star Wars produced to date. I have seen the film three times at this point, and I have no doubt in my mind.
I have listed, relisted, considered, and tortured myself over this prospect for four days now. It comes down to the following list of Star Wars films ranked from Worst to Best.
Episode II: Attack of the Clones
Episode I: The Phantom Menace
Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
Episode VI: Return of the Jedi
Episode VII: The Force Awakens
Episode V: Empire Strikes Back
Episode IV: A New Hope
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Now, I understand that that list is controversial. I am in no way saying that I do not enjoy each of the films on that list. I love them all. However, taking emotion out of the equation, taking my inner fanboy out of the equation, that order must stand.
I won’t spend a lot of time here discussing why Attack of the Clones is worse than Phantom Menace or why The Force Awakens falls behind Empire. This review is about Rogue One and why it is superior to all seven preceding films. If somebody wishes to defend Episode I or II in the comments, I’ll have that battle with you. Suffice for now that I just place these two screen shots here:
Let’s just take the galaxy’s two most mysterious and menacing figures and turn them into moody, whiny children.
Enough of my personal issues with the prequels. On to Rogue One!
The only real contender for top spot among the Star Wars films produced to date, from an objective standpoint has to be Episode IV: A New Hope. While individuals might enjoy Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, or even the Force Awakens for myriad personal reasons, A New Hope cannot be removed as progenitor of the entire franchise and the source for all of the tropes we’ve enjoyed for almost 40 years. Technical innovations have come along, filmmaking has progressed. Aspects of some of the newer films appeal to younger audiences and are more thrilling to their generation and there are entire series (see Clone Wars and Rebels) dedicated to those younger demographics that some older fans aren’t even familiar with.
Still, the primacy of Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope cannot be taken away from it. When placed firmly in historical context, the film is a groundbreaking piece of storytelling, cinematography, and late 70s zeitgeist. Many people I know have only ever seen the film once, in 1977, and still remember the first scene of Leia’s blockade runner and the imperial Star Destroyer passing overhead. The film was a tremendous technical undertaking at the time and the classic David and Goliath storyline wraps up perfectly as a self-contained film within two hours. After Episode IV, we voyage to exotic new locales such as Hoth, Bespin, Endor, and beyond. However, it all started on Tatooine and the Death Star.
So how do I get from the primacy of Episode IV to the conclusion that Rogue One is the best Star Wars film to date? Well, to all my Westworld fans our there I will put it this way: Rogue One makes the stakes real! Yes, Episode IV is the greatest due to all that it achieved and how it has stood the test of time. The vastly more sever failings of the first three episodes will never hold up as long as Episode IV. I say this acknowledging that Episode IV has its own noticeable issues. What Rogue One has done, is taken the noticeable failings of Episode IV, constricted by its place in history, the technology of that time, and budgets, and pulled it from the preserved amber of the 70s and propped it up in our current time and culture.
There is no doubt that the Death Star was a terrifying weapon from its very first appearance in 1977. The same goes for Vader’s horrifying ruthlessness, the cold deadliness of the empire, and the loveable familiarity of all of our heroes. However, Episode IV has aged. In its age, how sterile the action, violence, and stakes of Episode IV’s plot are have become evident. While the Death Star has the power to destroy and entire planet in Episode IV, we witness that power from a distance, detached. We see Leia react in grief and terror, and Obi-Wan literally reacting from a vast distance.
There is a noticeable contrast in Rogue One. Spoiler alert here! From here on out, the review digs into particulars that are certainly spoilers.
In Rogue One, we witness both of the Death Star’s attacks from the cold, distant, perspective of the imperial men operating the Death Star, but also from the perspective of those directly affected planetside. We get to see the devastation and destruction from the level of the victims. The result is visceral. It conjures up primal fear. More importantly than this storytelling technique in perspective is the fact that the writers held off on complete planetary destruction. While moviemaking techniques in this day and age could no doubt produce a dazzling spectacle of an entire planet blasting into oblivion, it could never possibly be so in this film that precedes Episode IV.
This is where Rogue One reinforces the primacy of Episode IV. Alderaan has to remain the first demonstration of the full destructive force of the Death Star. In Rogue One, the Death Star remains a sleeping giant waiting to be unleashed.
Another notable aspect of Rogue One is the absence of Jedi. It’s unclear whether Chirrut Imwe and companion were actually Jedi knights. If they were, they would have completed their final training and produced a lightsaber. Then again, perhaps they were hiding the sabers in fear. Wookieepedia describes Chirrut as a “spiritual warrior-monk” and Captain Andor describes him as a guardian of the Jedi temple. In the days since seeing the film, I have heard the absence of Jedi bemoaned. However, their absence lends to their storytelling power. In Episode IV, the destruction, the purge of Jedi from the galaxy, later known as Order 66 is hinted at. Again, we’re distant from the atrocity of this event. The fact that all protagonists in Rogue One were mere mortals without particularly special capabilities leads to the power of the theme being told. The only character with palpable force powers in the film is Darth Vader. This juxtaposition and imbalance of power props Darth Vader up as more terrifying than he has ever been depicted before.
Again, in a New Hope, Vader was never a true threat, because a supposedly great Jedi Knight, Obi-Wan was always there to step in to match him blow for blow. Rogue One has an ever-present notion that the entire mission could fail at any time. The odds are truly stacked against this rag-tag group with no truly exemplary qualities other than the willingness to fight back. The second and final scene featuring Darth Vader in Rogue One resets his entire role in Episode IV in a brand-new terrifying light. His casual jaunt through the halls of the blockade runner back in 1977 has just become the final, effortless continuation of his bloodthirsty demonstration of awesome power from the end of Rogue One.
Now on to the final criticism I have heard in recent days. Why did all of the main protagonists die!? Again, the stakes in this film had to be real.
Again, the ruthless terror of the empire if often told but not shown in A New Hope. Vader’s stormtroopers do most of the killing in the opening scene, the cell door shuts on Leia’s torture droid experience, we see the jawas’ sandcrawler after its destruction along with Aunt Beru and Uncle Owen. Every single character in Rogue One had a minute role to play in a hail mary effory, based on the word of one lone criminal. One man died pulling a lever, another died setting up a satellite uplink, yet another died handing a message off to the rebellion. When this is put into the context of an in-fighting rebel alliance teetering of the brink of dissolution, the stakes could not be more palpable. After experiencing all of this sacrifice and near-failures, the idealized heroics of A New Hope are set in a more understandable context that we can relate to. The rag-tag group of non-Jedi protagonists in Rogue One sacrifice all to hand off Death Star Plans (just barely I might add) to the last known Jedi in the galaxy, Obi-Wan, and his untested force-sensitive allies, Luke and Leia.
Why is Rogue One the best Star Wars produced to date!? It takes a much beloved, yet aging, Episode IV and breathes new relevance and importance into its narrative. This backstory has made me fall in love with Episode IV all over again. To reproduced a feeling of viewing Episode IV for the first time- that feeling all nostalgia is based around chasing- Rogue One must take its rightful place at the top of the stack!
Now for my favorite part! DrunkWooky’s arbitrary rating scale!
In the spirit of the season, my rating scale comes from the Star Wars Holiday special! I give Rogue One 6 baby Wookie faces out of 5!